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May 27, 2019

Below is a lesson from Blue Courage’s own Michael Nila on the hero’s journey, as well as our key learning.

The Blue Courage team is dedicated to continual learning and growth.  We have adopted a concept from Simon Sinek’s Start With Why team called “Learn, Share, Grow”.  We are constantly finding great articles, videos, and readings that have so much learning.  As we learn new and great things, this new knowledge should be shared for everyone to then grow from.


A Hero’s Journey

By Michael Nila

In the beginning of time, cave dwellers were telling stories in a cave, or around a campfire, and even creating hieroglyphics on the walls of caves. Fast forward to today, where we watch movies like Batman or the Green Book that tell a story. Joseph Campbell says, “Every story from the beginning of time is a hero’s journey.” Every story. And when you pick a story apart, every story has three parts. 

To illustrate how powerful Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey is: In the begnning of every movie that Pixar creates, they put the credits out in small print. In the credits is a dedication to Joseph Campbell and the hero’s journey. Writers, journalists, directors, and actors all know the hero’s journey and understand that their work is a story. Every story is a hero’s journey. 

I want you to think about this as I am describing the three parts. Your Police Department may be going through its own hero’s journey. They have been from the time you were created as a city, to the time the current Mayor showed up, to the time you were put into these positions, to today—it’s a hero’s journey. Every one of us — both in our personal and professional lives — every single one of us has experienced and is experiencing a hero’s journey. Our journeys are not all the same but we’re all on the journey. It’s a hero’s journey and we must discover what that means to us organizationally and personally.

There are three parts of the hero’s journey. As they are described to you, you must reflect on what it means to you, as a management team, as individual leaders, in this organization, and to this place and time that this moment finds you in.

The hero’s journey: I want you to imagine that you’re all the kings and queens of your village. You are sitting at the top of the pinnacle, everybody is treating you with reverence and respect, waiting on you, bringing you coffee — and not in Styrofoam cups — but in crystal mugs. Everything is right in your universe — from the place you were sitting, all is perfect. But the villagers come to you and begin to tell you that all is not right in the universe. Everything that you think is cool, great, smooth, and wonderful — is not. There are problems in the village. Now, when we’re sitting on top of the pinnacle and people come to us and begin to tell us those things, how do we typically react when people are telling us something is wrong? We get defensive. We think they are wrong. From where we are standing — on top — we think everything is right with the world. The villagers must be wrong; they’re just looking at it from the wrong perspective. Joseph Campbell calls this “failing to hear the call” so we reject the pleas for change and attention. 

In modern writing Daniel Pink describing the hero’s journey says, “in every prayer, in every complaint, in every request, every whisper is the call to change — saying we can do better.” But most often, in the beginning of a hero’s journey, when people come to tell the leader that not all is right — we reject the call, we fail to hear the call. If our rejection of the call lasts long enough and consistently enough, the villagers will cast the king and queen out of the village. Now, you can equate this to any relationship. You’re in a relationship and somebody is telling you they’re not happy, their face says they’re not happy, their body language has changed, the emotion in the interaction has changed. That is a call, a whisper, a prayer that says all is not right in the village. If that is not addressed the relationship can break. It can be a child slowly withdrawing from a parent and eventually not talking. Think about how many people have broken relationships in their lives, whether it’s a spouse, significant other, their children, or their parents. It stuns me when I hear people say, “I haven’t talked to my sister in 25 years.” And I ask why. “Oh, because I am still mad at her.” Those are the opportunities that we fail to hear the call. If we don’t hear the call for long enough the villagers, family members, or friends will cast us out of the village. Same is true of a police agency and its relationship with its community. If the PD fails to hear the call, the relationship is broken. If the social contract is broken, the community rejects our authority over them.

That’s the departure — do we hear the call or do we not? Are we listening to the prayers, whispers, the pleas? The moments when people may be telling us not all is right in the village, that’s our opportunity to fix it. If we hear the call, opportunity opens. If we reject the call, we get cast out. That’s the departure phase. That’s the first phase of a hero’s journey. 

The second part is what Campbell calls the initiation. The initiation, is when you’ve been cast out, the village has cast you out, maybe you have been fired from your job, maybe you are no longer in the same position, maybe your relationship is broken, or you’ve gotten a divorce. This begins the initiation phase, that says “you didn’t hear the call and now you are suffering the consequences’’—you’ve been cast out. Joseph Campbell describes it as being cast out into the wilderness and you’re wandering aimlessly in the wilderness lost, literally lost—emotionally and intellectually, spiritually. You’re wondering what happened? Before I was at the top of the kingdom, life was good, everything was good. How did I get to this place, here, right now?

I am reminded of a Jesuit priest who had found out what we were teaching here at Blue Courage. We were discussing the meaning, purpose and the things we were teaching at Blue Courage. He was marveling at what we are attempting to instill in people’s lives. He shared a story: “I went to seminary with another Jesuit priest who became my best friend. We went to seminary together, we learned together, we studied together, we coached together, we served mass together, we went through all these spiritual moments together for years. Today, that priest is in prison for molesting boys. It took me years to gain the courage to visit him in prison. And finally, I did it. I went to visit him and he is behind the glass, in this prison, in an orange jumpsuit. We are talking through this small hole. I was astonished at the circumstances; here I am in my Jesuit garb, here he is in his prison garb on the other side of the glass and we are talking through a hole. I remember the times we prayed together, we held hands praying together, and these spiritual moments we shared — and here we are. The first thing I said to him is, how did you get here?”

Now think about the power of that question. How did he get to that place? And the priest said to the prisoner, “we prayed together, we studied together, we took our vows together, and we were in seminary together. How did you get here?” This is what the priest said, “the moment that I stopped praying, was the moment that I stopped believing, was the moment I started thinking it was okay to do things that conflicted with who I am. Then I couldn’t get back, I couldn’t unwind it.” That is the initiation. How did I get to that place? What path did I take? What leadership moments did I miss? What decision did I make? What did I not listen to? What prayer, what call, what whisper, what complaint, had I ignored and dismissed that now has got me to this place, now I’m lost. 

The hero was wondering around aimlessly in the wilderness lost, searching for answers. In this phase, the hero gets a gift. The gift is a teacher, a mentor, a friend, a counselor, a coach, who begins to teach the hero. In the teaching, the hero is now open to the learning and in the teaching — the hero transforms. Transformation is the key to every story that you’ve heard told by anyone. Whether it’s the Wizard of Oz or Batman it’s the story of transformation. This is all about learning, and awakening. Once we become aware, we learn, we become enlightened, we’ve been awakened to something that was not present before in our life. Once that happens, the transformation takes place. That is when we get to the third phase of a hero’s journey. That is the return. 

In the return phase, the hero returns to their village, to their family, to whatever they have left behind the place that cast them out. When they return, they are committed to mastering “two worlds.” What are the two worlds? So, the leader has transformed, they’ve learned, they’ve been enlightened, they continue to learn and when they have the courage to come back to their old world — they are committed to master the world that they left because that world still exists. That world has not changed, that world did not go through a hero’s journey, that world did not go through a transformation. 

Think about this, you walk out of the room today and let’s say that there’s a degree of transformation that has happened. You will be walking out to a world unchanged. The world did not experience what you have. The world does not know about a hero’s journey, the world is not at the heart and mindset that you are, or will be. So, you must go back to that world that was and still master that world. I call that the willingness to meet people where they are at. Not where you want them to be or where you think they should be, but the willingness to meet the world where it’s at right now. 

The second world to master is the new world. What is the world that we are creating? I’m committed to mastering the world that I left behind, that cast me out, understanding the imperfections of that world, and at the same time I am committed to mastering the new world that we must create, to create the future that we want to have. We are living in two worlds. Those of us who are working to be better, to be a better version of ourselves, the best leaders, to create a legacy, to create a future for the people—a future they would not have if you were not present in their lives. Think about it, what you are doing by sitting in these positions, you are creating a future that people would probably not have if you were not in their lives. Tell me that’s not an enormous amount of responsibility. Tell me that’s not honorable and noble. Tell me that’s not an immortal legacy we are leaving. That is why these positions of leadership are so critical, why this moment in time is so precious and important! 

So, on this hero’s journey you are experiencing right here, right now – do you hear the call? Do you have the courage to listen, to answer, to be awakened, to learn and to master your two worlds!? 


Key Learnings:

  • “Every story from the beginning of time is a hero’s journey.” Joseph Campbell
  • Both in our personal and professional lives, every single one of us has experienced and is experiencing a hero’s journey.
  • “Failing to hear the call” — when we reject the pleas for change and attention.
  • “In every prayer, in every complaint, in every request, every whisper is the call to change — saying we can do better.” Daniel Pink
  • If we don’t hear the call for long enough, we are cast out from our family, or friends, or circle, etc.
  • The moment when people may be telling us not all is right, that’s our opportunity to fix it. If we hear the call, opportunity opens. If we reject the call, we get cast out.
  • Departure phase – first phase of a hero’s journey. When we fail to hear the call and are cast out of our group.
  • Initiation phase – second phase of a hero’s journey. After being cast out, when wandering aimlessly lost — intellectually, spiritually. How did you get there? What happened? What leadership moments did you miss? What decision did you make? What did you not listen to?
  • In the initiation phase, the hero gets a gift — a teacher, a mentor, a friend, a counselor, a coach — who begins to teach the hero. It’s all about learning/awakening.
  • The return – the third phase of a hero’s journey. The hero returns to where they were cast out. The hero is committed to mastering “two worlds”:
    • The world they left — it still exists unchanged. You must have the willingness to meet people where they are at. Nothing has changed for them.
    • The new world — the world that we are creating. Create the future that we want to live in, now that you have experience this hero’s journey, and have learned new things.
  • Those who are working to be better, to be a better version of ourselves, the best leaders, to create a legacy, to create a future for the people — a future they would not have if you were not present in their lives. Why LEADERSHIP is so critical! IMMORTAL LEGACY!